Superette’s new concept stores sell cannabis, yes, but it doesn’t feel right to call them dispensaries. Especially Sip ‘N’ Smoke and the Stackt Supermarket, which look more like colorful odes to often overlooked, everyday shopping experiences at grocery stores, delis and diners.
These Canadian shops read like pop art expressions of what the normalization of cannabis can look like. Each store isn’t just another dispensary, and you won’t hear CEO and co-founder Mimi Lam or any Superette marketing materials using that term. “That’s a very cognizant choice,” she says. “At our core, we’re a retailer—we’re a retailer that sells weed, but we’re first and foremost a retailer.”
The Superette brand identity was built on a shared vision between Lam and co-founder Drummond Monro, who worked together at Tokyo Smoke, a Canadian cannabis company. Both shared equal respect for retail spaces and the customer experience, and both saw a gap in the market: Retail fundamentals and advancements weren’t fully being implemented in the cannabis industry.
At a time when cannabis startups were longing to become the Apple Store of weed or branding dispensaries with names such as CannaThis or GreenThat, the duo ideated a different approach: Superette, a name that means “mini supermarket,” and a logo that’s simply a bodega rose.
The Sip ‘N’ Smoke, launched August 2021 in Toronto, operates much like a cafeteria, with guests grabbing trays and moving down the line as they make their selections. It sits, bright and inviting, on Dundas Street, looking out on Trinity Bellwoods Park, where cannabis consumption is a regular part of life (public consumption of cannabis is legal in most public spaces in Ontario).
Meant to serve as a go-to express shop on the way to the park, the Sip ‘N’ Smoke sells picnic towels, blankets, portable speakers and lighters along with their carefully curated, ready-to-consume-at-the-park selection of pre-rolls and infused beverages. Customers can also use their signature Munchie Phone (a corded landline phone designed to look like a sandwich) to place an order at the beloved local sub shop, Lambo’s Deli.
Lam says the way that Superette stores show up in the community is of great importance to their team. That’s why their version of an express store is more than a flagship store with a condensed number of SKUs. It’s also why they choose to pull inspiration from familiar, tried-and-true retail experiences when designing new stores. For the team behind the designs, their aesthetic isn’t only attractive, but a concerted effort to create a disarming experience around buying cannabis.
“The reason we created Superette is to make the buying experience fun, because we thought that there was such a disconnect between the retail experience and the feeling that customers are ultimately pursuing in an adult-use market,” Lam says.
Lam adds that Superette stores stand in direct contrast to sterile, clinical dispensaries with muted colors in overly secure spaces.
As someone who came of age alongside the legalization of cannabis in the Bay Area, the Superette stores are strikingly different from what I’m used to seeing. I remember when medicinal loopholes were the only way to get cannabis from a store. Dispensaries in San Francisco and surrounding areas are still often fronted with armed security guards and other safety protocols before entry—although with the recent spate of smash-and-grab robberies targeting the cash-only dispensaries, I’m not sure we can call them “overly secure.”
Challenges for the cannabis industry are often compounded. In the Bay Area, for example, where just securing a commercial space is an astronomical expense to most, and in some wealthier communities, you may face a fight against new cannabis retail sites. I still see many dispensaries clinging to their clinical, medicinal past, rather than being able to lean into the fun and joy of the plant that is becoming more celebrated in an adult-use market.
That’s what Superette is all about.
“If we can create that emotional connection in our spaces and bring some joy, that really moves the needle in how they even perceive cannabis in the first place,” Lam says.
The Superette brand has upped their game in how they make the consumer feel at every brand touchpoint, which, she says, can “change the perception away from ‘hey, it’s just like, scary weed’” to the idea that it can be normalized—fun, even.
According to Lam, although much progress has been made in changing the perception of cannabis over the last few years, there’s still a big knowledge and stigma barrier for consumers. And because regulations are so involved, there’s also a huge financial barrier for cannabis entrepreneurs. Between security system requirements, building codes, government fees and working capital, she says “there’s a mountain of costs that you need to incur before you even make one dollar of revenue, which makes it really difficult.”
And until government regulations catch up with her entrepreneurial mind, Lam is busy dreaming of a time when cannabis can be seamlessly integrated into all sorts of business models. “It’s hard for me not to think about a future where you have spas with topicals, or you have yoga classes with a cannabis element to it, or an edibles-only shop,” she says. “That gets me really excited.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.